From The Borrowers to The Littles to The Indian in the Cupboard, little people have been populating children’s books since the days of Gulliver’s Lilliputians. In books, miniature people have a variety of reasons for being so tiny: some were born tiny (or even with tails!) and some of the books take place in a far-away land where tiny is normal. But some of these unfortunate miniature people were transformed under mysterious circumstances…just like Mindy and her friends in Mindy’s Mysterious Miniature by Jane Louise Curry.
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Mindy is spending a boring Saturday trailing after her parents at a dusty old estate auction. They have a small antiques store, and their daughter soon grows tired of the same old auction items. After listening to one too many bad jokes from the auctioneer, she slips off to explore the old barn, now empty of all its possessions. In the dusty overlooked eaves of the hayloft, behind a broken sign, Mindy stumbles upon a forgotten dollhouse. A beautiful dollhouse, if the dusty room she can see through a hole in a tiny window is anything to go by. She runs to explain her find to the auctioneer and convinces him to put it up for auction. She bids 68 cents and 12 lemon soda bottles (at five cents each) and with no opponents, ends up the proud owner of a grimy dollhouse.
Once Mindy and her parents get the dollhouse home, they start to examine it. Something isn’t right about this house…it’s more like a model of a home rather than a toy to play with. Everything is exactly to scale, with nothing being too big or too little…something almost impossible to find, even in the most carefully constructed reproductions. There are tiny silver pots that look authentically colonial, minuscule eyeglasses and a beautiful chandelier. It’s all perfect. Maybe too perfect?
While Mindy and her mother start taking furniture outside to wash in the yard, Mindy’s father, Mr. Hallam, takes the tiny kitchen table to work with him to examine more closely. Mindy suddenly gets nervous about the dollhouse when she finds an oily-looking man snooping around her parent’s store, looking inside drawers where he has no business. She runs to warn her mother, only to find that her mother has already covered up the house after an odd encounter with a persistent TV repairman.
Mindy’s father comes home with the news that the table, when viewed under magnification, seems to be composed of miniature wood molecules, and the whole family isn’t sure what to think. Do they have a dollhouse made out of some previously unknown type of wood, or is their dollhouse a shrunken real-sized house? Mindy’s parent’s scoff, but Mindy isn’t so sure.
When Mrs. Bright from next-door comes over to tell the Halams about her own encounter with the creepy TV repairman, who turns out to also be the snoopy antiques collector, Mr. and Mrs. Halam decide to go to the police and report him. Mrs. Bright volunteers to stay with Mindy…which may be something that all four regret. Because the strange man…Mr. L. Putt….comes back. He knows the secret of the mysterious dollhouse, and he doesn’t want to share.
Soon, Mindy and Mrs. Bright are actually inside the miniature home. Mr. Putt is not a TV repairman or an antiques collector. He’s a dangerous man, and he’s stolen the dollhouse AND Mindy and Mrs. Bright. If these two friends are going to survive, they have to keep their wits about them and figure out a way to outwit the dastardly professor who’s now keeping them prisoner!
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Originally published in 1970, and released in paperback as The Mysterious Shrinking House, this was a Scholastic book staple in the early 70s. There’s a companion book entitle The Lost Farm., where a boy named Pete and his grandmother have to deal with Professor Putt’s schemes and their shrunken farm.
Mindy’s Mysterious Miniature was an extremely popular book when I was in fifth grade–I think my whole class read it. Jane Louise Curry was one of my favorite authors when I was in fourth, fifth and sixth grade, with her combination of adventure, danger and humor. We still have a few of her titles, and I would highly recommend her to any middle-grade readers. Some are mysteries, some are time-travel adventures, and some are fantasy. Two of my favorites still at the Weston Library include The Bassumtyte Treasure and The Ice Ghosts Mystery. For the books we don’t own, I adore Parsley Sage, Rosemary and Time, and still read it every couple years for fun. And I see Poor Tom’s Ghost is back in print! Hmm…
So if you’re looking for a satisfying, page-turning summer read, try Mindy’s Mysterious Miniature. You’ll like it, I promise!